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PRITI PATEL’S decision to lift restrictions on “suspicionless” stop and search will worsen existing divisions between police and communities, civil rights groups have warned.
In a letter to police forces today, the Home Secretary announced the permanent easing of restrictions on the use of the tactic under section 60 of the Criminal the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
Section 60 powers allow officers to search people without reasonable grounds in an area when they expect serious violence and to look for weapons, either before they can be used or those used in a recent attack.
Ms Patel’s letter effectively scraps limitations put in place in 2014 by then home secretary Theresa May.
The changes extend the length of time that the powers can be in force from 15 to 24 hours and lowers the rank at which officers are able to authorise the powers from senior officer to inspector.
Authorising officers now only need to anticipate that serious violence “may” occur rather than “will” occur and no longer need to publicly communicate authorisations to communities in advance.
Ms Patel said that the restrictions were being eased to “drive down” knife crime by “making it easier for officers to use these powers to seize more weapons, arrest more suspects and save more lives.”
But civil rights campaigners warned that the move would disproportionately affect ethnic minority people, who are 18 times more likely to be stop and searched under section 60 than white people, according to official figures.
“Not only are section 60 stops not effective at detecting and reducing knife crime, they disproportionately affect people of colour, particularly black people,” Liberty head of policy campaigns Sam Grant said.
“Removing the section 60 safeguards will worsen existing divisions between police and communities at a time when public trust and confidence in the police is at a serious low.”
The safeguards were temporarily suspended last summer by Ms Patel, but a successful legal challenge by Liberty and campaign group StopWatch forced the Home Secretary to backtrack.
StopWatch research and policy manager Habib Kadiri said: “It is unclear what has changed for the better to justify this latest move.
“It appears to us that the government is more interested in maintaining the impression that it is one of law and order above respecting the wishes of already over-policed and under-protected communities.”
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